A silver fern projected onto the sails of the Opera House in commemoration of the victims of the Christchurch massacre. Picture: James D. Morgan/Getty
A silver fern projected onto the sails of the Opera House in commemoration of the victims of the Christchurch massacre. Picture: James D. Morgan/Getty

‘We are all responsible for Christchurch massacre’

ON FRIDAY a man carrying a gun in his hands and hate in his hearts entered two mosques in Christchurch, New Zealand and massacred unarmed civilians while they were worshipping.

As we grapple with the horror of this event, the natural tendency for most of us is to disassociate with the perpetrators. To reject them. Say they are not like us, do not represent our values and have no place in our society.

However, as details emerge, we will need to face the reality that we are all more similar to both the victims and the perpetrators than we care to imagine.

As a white Australian male who married into a devoted Muslim family I feel these similarities personally. I have friends and family who have experienced religious and racially motivated violence. I have friends and family who have publicly expressed extremist right-wing views, including hatred and fear of Muslims. Invariably, this hate falls hardest on women of colour. It is almost always perpetrated by dominant culture males.

But beyond these similarities lies a deeper truth that should concern all of us. We all have the potential for radical evil and the potential for radical good. Evil is not an external force that can be blamed on external beings. Evil, and good, are potentials that lie within us all. Evil, and good, are choices we make in small and large ways every single day.

Flowers and tributes to those killed in the Christchurch terror attack line the fence of the city’s botanic gardens. Picture: Carl Court/Getty
Flowers and tributes to those killed in the Christchurch terror attack line the fence of the city’s botanic gardens. Picture: Carl Court/Getty

This may be an uncomfortable idea. But it is also our greatest hope and reassurance. Life experiences, personal choices and the broader social environment all determine how our human potential will grow. And there are many things we can do to make ourselves, and our society, better.

Personally, it means I can accept that I have racist and bigoted tendencies, and that I need to consciously work to overcome these every day. It means I can be conscious of these tendencies in others, and it can give me the courage and humility to call attention to acts of "evil" while also recognising the person's potential for "good".

As a society, it means that we can accept that racism, xenophobia, tribalism, bigotry, chauvinism and hate have been a real part of Australian history and culture up to and including today. To greater or lesser extents we, and our predecessors, have all contributed to this - and we can all contribute to positive change.

On Friday evening I took my daughter to our local mosque for the sunset prayers and found a small bunch of flowers with a note attached. It was from a local family expressing their horror for what happened in Christchurch and wanting to reassure Muslim neighbours that we were welcome and had a right to feel safe. By the end of the evening prayers more flowers and notes had been delivered, and similar scenes have happened right across the country.

Unfortunately there have been other responses that have been less caring. I've been particularly saddened to see some people use biblical quotes to justify or explain this horrific and apparently calculated terrorist attack.

Preston Mosque in Victoria has been the scene of floral tributes to the victims of the Christchurch attack, as have other mosques around Australia. Picture: Tim Carrafa
Preston Mosque in Victoria has been the scene of floral tributes to the victims of the Christchurch attack, as have other mosques around Australia. Picture: Tim Carrafa

But I guess this goes to show that some people will twist religion to suit their own prejudices, even setting aside the golden rule of "Love your neighbour as you love yourself". A golden rule shared by many religious and ethical traditions, including Islam: "As you would have people do to you, do to them; and what you dislike to be done to you, don't do to them".

Australia and New Zealand are great countries to live in. The Christchurch massacre does not represent our values or ideals. However, we should resist the urge to dissociate completely from the perpetrators and their perverse and twisted ideas.

Just as Germany and Germans have grappled with the Nazi nightmare, Australia and Australians must grapple with the evils of our own history and culture. The Christchurch massacre was not an accident. Our intelligence agencies have observed the growing threat from anti-Islam groups, and anti-Muslim and anti-immigrant rhetoric has become disturbingly normalised by media personalities, elected representatives, and on social media.

Political parties, and their supporters, have cultivated fear of immigrants, Muslims, and the "other" to maintain power and protect their interests. Media outlets and commentators have shared, promoted, and frequently defended, hate messages and their proponents. In doing this, our leaders and opinion-makers have failed us and should bear considerable responsibility for the Christchurch massacre and other similar hate crimes.

In the future, individuals will continue to hate, and media personalities and politicians will continue to capitalise on this hate. Stirring fear and hate are easy ways to seize power. We must forge a better way. We can foster compassionate responses in small and large ways every day. We can hold institutions and our leaders accountable for their words and actions. We can break down the categories of "us" and "them", recognising that we are all in this together. Look around at your neighbours and your family. There is beauty and strength in our similarities and our differences. Recognising our shared humanity is vital to building a free, harmonious Australia.

Hamish Graham is a paediatrician and researcher who lives with his wife and children in Melbourne.



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